Q: Hopefully, the Red Wings game gives the Pens a glimpse of Jordan Staal's massive potential and they don't consider trading him. With his defensive prowess and penalty-killing ability, hockey sense and huge 20-year-old physique, this guy could easily be one of the five best players in the game by 2010. Keep the core and add a piece or two by shedding a defenseman when Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar return, but please hang on Staal.
Jeff Abraham, Huntington Beach, Calif.
MOLINARI: Staal has been coming on for a couple of weeks now -- the empty-net goal Evgeni Malkin set him up for in St. Louis earlier this month might have been the turning point in his season -- but what he did in the third period and overtime of the Penguins' 7-6 victory in Detroit Tuesday has to rank among the finest individual efforts in recent franchise history. Especially considering who he did it against, and where he did it. It was absolutely breathtaking, the way he took over that game.
Not surprisingly, there was a marked decrease in the number of trade-Staal-for-whoever e-mails that turned up in the Q&A inbox yesterday, and that probably will continue to be the case for as long as he scores three or more goals in every game. As soon as that stops, all bets are off.
Even though Staal showed a very nice touch around the net Tuesday -- and when he heisted the puck from Pavel Datsyuk to set up Ruslan Fedotenko's game-winner -- it's far from established that he can be a consistent goal-scorer at this level. Yes, he got 29 as a rookie, but his lack of production last season and in the first month of this one certainly made it perfectly believable that his output in 2006-07 would be the exception, not the rule.
If he could develop into a 30-goal man, his other qualities, like size, strength and skating, could allow him to become a true impact player in this league for a lot of years. But even if point production remains a secondary part of his game, he could be a valuable guy for any team to have, which is why there is sure to be a great demand for his services if the Penguins ever decide that he's a luxury the salary cap no longer will allow them to afford.
He already is a very good defensive center and penalty-killer, and his blue-collar work centering the third line this spring played a significant role in helping the Penguins get to the Stanley Cup final. If he can inject offense into his game with any sort of regularity, Staal could be scary-good.
Although a lot of fans seem willing, if not downright eager, to part with Staal, the Penguins' decision-makers certainly don't feel that way, and aren't likely to trade him unless they reach a point where there simply is no alternative. He isn't going to leapfrog Sidney Crosby or Malkin on the depth chart and is most effective when used in the middle, so he's pretty much locked into a third-line niche unless there is an injury or he gets shifted back to left wing, which is something all concerned would prefer to avoid.
Q: Staal got a hat trick in the Detroit game. Since he scored three times in a row for his team, is this considered a natural hat trick?
MOLINARI: What Staal did against the Red Wings actually seemed more unnatural than anything but no, it was not a natural hat trick. That is the term applied when a player scores three consecutive goals in a game, not just three in a row for his team.
Q: Are the Pens still pursuing Brendan Shanahan?
Steven, Hong Kong
MOLINARI: Every bit as much as they ever have been. Which is to say, not at all.
And frankly, they shouldn't. There's absolutely no reason to question Shanahan's intangibles, and he undoubtedly would be a positive presence in any locker room. Nonetheless, his performance slipped as last season progressed and, at age 39, it's perfectly reasonable to doubt that he ever would return to the level where he'd be a legitimate top-six winger, which is what the Penguins need.
Given the limited amount of salary-cap space the Penguins have available, gambling on Shanahan just wouldn't be prudent. That doesn't mean he can't, or won't, have an impact, wherever he happens to end up. Just that that doesn't look like the smart way to bet at this point.